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Philosophy Graduate Student Portfolio Papers Guide

Guide for portfolio papers


Whenever you are diving into an unfamiliar philosophical tradition, it can be difficult to know where to start. Who is talking to whom? What are the ongoing debates and who are the representatives of those views? This page offers a few ways to use databases to identify these connections.

These resources are presented with an important proviso: each presents biased results. Articles, books, and other works that are frequently-cited tend to be a self-reinforcing circle, often dominated by big names and big schools. Further, what are considered "major topics" or "main ideas" are reinforced by that scholarly cycle: a prominent name writes a major article on a topic which then gets cited, discussed, etc, perhaps founding new discussions but in any case reiterating the centrality of that topic. This is to say if you are looking for scholarly conversations that are outside of or challenge predominant narratives of philosophy, you will likely find these resources of limited use. Nevertheless, you may find it worth identifying these names and works as a point of reference.


PhilPapers is a database and search engine of philosophy books, articles, and other philosophy-related works. In particular, two features of the website are helpful for determining the relative impact of particular sources.
First, when using PhilPapers's search engine, one of the sorting options is by "Impact." If you are looking for works on Plato, for example, simply search "Plato" and sort by impact. This does, unfortunately, have the same problem as many search engines, i.e. you will see repeat entries of the same work divided by translation. PhilPaper's search is more robust than just this feature, however (click here for a full list of search options). Let's say, for example, you want to find the most impactful sources on Plato, but not by Plato. You can accomplish this by modifying what you type in the search bar. In this case, you would type:
  • Plato @author -Plato

Doing this would give you the resources with the highest impact factor in the database about Plato but that do not have him listed as the author.

Second, PhilPapers offers bibliography pages, and will suggest pages that may be relevant to you whenever you enter a search. Plato's bibliography page, for example, can be viewed here. These pages generally include a brief biography, and may also include information on standard translations, what are generally considered to be the "major works," and important works of secondary literature. Scrolling down the page, one can again see search results, but generally on the figure and not including works by them. As always, one can filter these results by impact (or whatever other category is most helpful).

Google Scholar

Google Scholar can be a helpful tool for determining which works are most frequently cited. If you are looking for the most-frequently cited work by an author, you need only put in their name. However, if you get results that are not quite what you are looking for, the following tips may help:

  1. You can use the "-" (hyphen) in front of a term to exclude results that include that term. For example, if I search "Plato -Aristotle" I will get results that feature the term Plato but do NOT have Aristotle.
  2. If you are looking for works about an author but do NOT want to see works by that author themselves, you can search, e.g.:
    1. "Plato author:-Plato"
    2. Put another way: [Plato][author][colon][hyphen][Plato]

Google Scholar has the ability to add a "Find it @ Emory' button, which will take you to the record for that item in Emory's catalog. To add a "Find It @ Emory" button, go to Library Links in the Settings menu, search for Emory, and click the "Find It @ Emory" box.

Scimago Journal Rank (SJR) & Scopus

Scimago Journal Rank (SJR)

Employing data from Scopus, a database for "research assessment and evaluation," the SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) assesses the impact the average scholarly impact of a journal and its articles. For example, the top-ranked philosophy journal (as of this writing) is "The Philosophical Review." An at-a-glance view of the journal's impact can be seen below:

SCImago Journal & Country Rank

The full list of journals in philosophy can be viewed here. This will give you a sense of the most impactful journals in general, but may not be especially helpful if you are looking for articles on a specific topic.



The database used by SJR, Scopus helpfully has an option to sort its entries by the number of times an entry has been cited. Note that the database is NOT restricted to philosophy journals, so you may get results that are either inter/multidisciplinary, or simply beyond the scope of what you are looking for. Scopus does offer multiple tools to limit your search, however; some filtering options you might consider include:

  • Searching within results
  • Filtering by year
  • Filtering by subject area

If you find an entry that is relevant to your research, you can click the entry, browse down, and see both what works the entry cites and what works cite the entry you have selected. Especially helpfully, you can also click "View in search results format" to generate another search that then allows for further filtering, sorting, etc.


Suppose I want to write an article on Plato and I'm looking for frequently-cited works on Plato. First, I put in my term in the search engine:

I hit search and get these results:

Here I have ordered the results by "Cited by (highest)" since I am looking for the most well-known works. I have 9,145 results, however, which is far too many for me to go through. So, I decide I only want works specifically about the Republic. I put that in the "Search within results" bar:

The further search narrows my results to more relevant entries, and I find one that seems promising and click the entry. This is what it shows me:

In the abstract and other fields, my original search terms have been highlighted. I can use this entry to find more relevant resources as well. For example, if I want to find what other works have cited the work I'm looking at, I can view the right side of the screen; "View all __ citing documents" will take me to another search, which I can then sort and filter again (for example if I'm looking for the most-often-cited response to this work).

I can also see what works the entry I have chosen cites within it, and sort/filter those through a search as well:

By using these tools one can find some of the major secondary sources more easily than merely chasing footnotes. However, Scopus is NOT an exhaustive database, i.e. it does not have every single philosophy article and book ever written within it.